How to Select the Best Keywords for SEO
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How to Select the Best Keywords for SEO

This is the second installment regarding a set of articles on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by guest author Galen Sonntag.  This article focusses on the importance of choosing the proper keywords that go into your content.

Keyword Discovery Process

Finding the right keywords is critical for good SEO.  Keywords (and phrases) are the food that feeds search engines.  As discussed in a previous post, keywords must be relevant to your business, have enough search volume to be worth optimizing, and have low enough competition that you can rank well for them.

The Keyword Discovery Process is a creative driven process with measurement tools to confirm choices.  The creative side is much like brainstorming and using discussion to generate a large set of potential words and phrases that will later be tested.

Interviews for Keywords

To start with, interview the people closest to your customers, including customers if you can, and ask them a few key questions. Interview your sales staff, your call center staff, your installation personnel, your receptionist. These people are all in frequent contact with the customer and hear them talk in customer language, not the language of your internal communications.  Ask these questions:

1. Without using brand names, what is the product/service the company sells?

2. What terms would you use to search for this online?

3. Who are your top three competitors for this product or service?

4. What are the top three attributes of the product/service the company sells?

From these questions you can now get a good sense of what and how your product or service is referenced in the marketplace and search terms that are used. Keep in mind that customers may not refer to your products using the proper technical name that you define it as. This is not a case of your customers being wrong, it is simply the language of the customer and your search terms should reflect their language, not yours.

Now, check your website analytics package to see how these responses match up with how visitors are finding your website.  If you have a high degree of matching then your SEO is currently producing good results. If, like most websites, what your customers call your products are not your top search terms, then you have much to gain from SEO.

Another source of highly relevant keywords is to examine your competition.  What terms are frequently used on their site?  Check their keywords meta tags, if they use them. Make note of these as testing will follow. If you still need to generate more potential keywords try the Google Wonder Wheel (turn off Google Instant in your search settings and a link to Wonder Wheel appears down the left hand side of your search results).

Testing Your Keywords

A long list of keywords, generated from interviews, your Google Analytics history, and some competitive research should now be available for testing.  Search through the list and put together as many combinations of words and terms as possible. Do not add your own bias to this process, yet. Use the attributes of the product from question #4 above to create more combinations for testing. With your list, in electronic form, it is time to test for volume and competition using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (just search “google adwords keyword tool”).  Now, follow this process:

Copy and paste several of your search terms into the Word or Phrase box. Leave the website field blank as you want to explore a wide range, not just those Google determines relevant to your current website content. Check the box for “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms”.  Leave this unchecked and this can also be used to generate keyword ideas. Enter the spam filter check, you will only have to do this once (refer to screenshot below).

The results report will show you the keyword, the competition, and the search volume.  Keep in mind that the competition measurement is based on the Google AdWords system using the number of bids for the keywords, not the number of websites or web pages which include the keywords.  However, with Google being the number one search engine and the number one pay per click ad platform, this is a good data source to use.

Measuring Keyword Strength

Use the download feature and export the keywords lists to the Excel format.  Continue this process until you have pasted and produced the reports for all of the keyword phrases on your list.  Compile a master list and review the list.  You will need to reduce the list by two main criteria, competition and volume.  Start with search volume and remove anything with low search volume.  Then review the competition. If your website currently is page rank 4 or lower, you should avoid search terms with moderate to high competition. If you have page rank of 5 or higher you are well positioned to compete on the high competition terms.

Managerial Review

The last step is now to add your managerial experience to the process. Your marketing team should be best suited to relate the keywords and phrases you have developed to the marketing plan of the company. Their job is to discard any terms that are not relevant to the marketing plan. They should also rank the terms from high strategic importance to low importance. Those terms with high strategic importance will be the lead terms used in the on-page optimization to follow.

About the Author: Galen Sonntag is the principle member of Sonntag Search Marketing. Galen has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Lewis Clark State College in Idaho, where he attended on a baseball scholarship, an MBA from the  University of Saskatchewan, and a Diploma in Internet Marketing from the University of British Columbia. Several of the companies Galen has done work with include ABEX award winners for Marketing and Business Growth as well as the STEP Exporter of the Decade Award.

 
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  1. Dan Maynard, April 28, 2011
    Good article Galen. Further to pruning keywords based on volume/competition, I prune based on testing in google adwords. I will use a batch of keywords using exact match with 3 ads per ad group. Use conversion tracking. What this does is to see which keyword phrases are converting to sales as well as test the best converting ad which helps to develop the proper marketing positioning for the SEO'd web page particularly with respect to achieving good CTR on the SERPs with good Title and meta description. Reply

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